As heroin use spurs the AIDS epidemic in some parts of the world through shared needles, the debate on drug enforcement is shifting at the United Nations (UN), according to The New York Times.
In many nations, especially Russia and Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, the greatest HIV risk is injected heroin.
Last week, it was incorrectly announced that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was about to advocate ending penalties for personal use of all drugs. The agency did produce a briefing paper that stated possession of small amounts of drugs could be made permissible under anti-trafficking treaties and human rights law.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of Unaids, the UN agency fighting AIDS, noted that of the 12 million people who inject drugs, 1.7 million are infected. “We need to take these people out of the shadows and into services, or we will never control the epidemic,” he said. Worldwide, people who inject drugs are 28 times more likely to be infected than people who do not, according to the newspaper.
People who are not scared of being arrested after being caught with a syringe or a gram of heroin may be more likely to sign up for programs to help lower the risk of spreading HIV, such as clean syringes, condoms for people who sell sex for drugs, and methadone to treat their addiction, the article notes. Prisons can increase the risk of HIV infection through needle sharing, tattoo needles, unprotected sex and rape.
Countries that reduce penalties and offer treatment have reduced HIV infections, studies have found. Sidibé said China dropped a zero-tolerance policy on heroin, and now provides clean needles and methadone. It has 700 clinics treating 200,000 patients. New HIV cases among those patients have plummeted by 90 percent, he said.